• Stephanie Hammond

Goodbye to my fear of Drowning!

Scuba diving was a great start to overcoming my fear of drowning. Unfortunately, the changeable weather in New Zealand made my dive days few and far between and in the end I quit trying to arrange a day out. The hassle of organising child care and then having to cancel and rearrange was just not worth the effort. So in time I found other water related opportunities.

25 years ago, I was working at the local City Council and was invited to join a dragon boating team. Luckily for me the teams had to comprise both men and women. With the agreement that I’d fill in for practices only, I headed out to the lake with the others to find out how to do this thing I’d only just now heard of. Once again, a requirement was to be able to swim. Once again I fudged a reply. Those who knew my secret kept quiet about it.

To mine and everyone else’s astonishment, I loved it. The rhythm of keeping in time with the other paddlers was akin to meditation and being on the water was strangely energising and therapeutic. So I became a member of the team, heading off to the competitions and getting into the finals in Wellington.

I loved the companionship, the shared putting out all our energy, and the fun of competing. I found I had a competitive streak I’d not acknowledged before. Most of all I loved how comfortable I felt on the water, in this long narrow boat that sat so low in the water. I wasn’t IN the water. I was ON it. Big difference, but I was getting closer to my goal.

Now, sharks are not as much of a threat here in New Zealand as they are in Australia where I grew up with a more than healthy respect for their right to be in the shallow waters of our beaches.

After our final race in Wellington (no we didn’t win!) a 10 foot shark swam alongside us, accompanying us into the Lagoon where we would ‘disembark’. It was about three or four metres from me, swimming parallel to me. All I could think about was how beautiful it was. What a glorious animal. And how comfortable IT was in the water, gliding along beside me.

That just had to be the turning point for me. Never again would I be afraid of drowning. Sure, I might drown. But that fear left me for good that day. I felt a kinship with that shark and a trust that just as it was comfortable in its water environment even when it was populated by crazy humans, I was comfortable in its water environment.

I never dragon boated again. But I did go on to learn to swim freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke. I could save myself if need be. More importantly, I can enjoy myself with everyone else when a water activity is proposed.

I love kayaking and white water rafting; crossing streams when hiking and soaking in hot pools; and standing under waterfalls.

Today I am grateful for my friend who picked me up and jumped into the pool with me and scared me half to death. I am grateful for feeling sick to death of the fear and determining to overcome it. Extraordinary fear sometimes takes extraordinary efforts to beat it. Scuba diving and dragon boating may seem to be more than extraordinary activities for me to use to overcome my fears. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience them. And I wouldn't have if it hadn't been for that fear planted in me when I was four years old. (Photo from stuff.co.nz)

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